Interview: Hivos partner speaks about Ríos Montt trial

April 17, 2013

After years of fighting, Hivos partners Center for Human Rights Legal Action (CALDH) and the Association of Justice and Reconciliation (AJR), along with other organizations, have managed for the first time ever to bring a former head of state to trial for genocide by a national court. Former Guatemalan Dictador Efraín Ríos Montt, 85, who was in power from 1982 to 1983 during the country’s Civil War, is accused of being responsible for the killing of more than 1,700 indigenous people.

Hivos spoke with our long-standing partner CALDH to get  some insights into how the lawsuit came about.

Q: How long did it take to get to this long-awaited moment, Ríos Montt being brought to trial?

A: It took us 12 years to bring Ríos Montt to trial because as a congressman, he enjoyed immunity from prosecution until January 14, 2012.

It all began back in 2001 when the Association of Justice and Reconciliation (AJR) filed a complaint with the legal advice department of our organization, Center for Human Rights Legal Action (CALDH).

During those years, AJR and CALDH have worked hand in hand to strengthen AJR’s organization in the five regions where they work; together we have held workshops, meetings, informative sessions on the case, even during periods when the trial was stalled.

Q. At what point did AJR decide to go public with the case?

A: When the survivors finally decided to relive the past. They wanted to talk about what they had gone through, so it was important to reconstruct what happened as part of a process that strengthened their identity as well as the justice system in Guatemala.

In 2004, CALDH with the support of AJR carried out the First Encounter about Racism and Genocide, placing the issue of genocide in the context of Guatemalan society. After that, people began to come forward with testimony about the ‘massacre in the Ixil region’.

Q. It took twelve years, but the trial finally got underway in a national tribunal, though many thought this would never happen. At what point did AJR get a positive response from the Public Ministry?

A. In 2008, the Public Ministry began to undergo some changes. The Attorney General, Amilcar Zárate, opened the way for dialogue and re-established cordial relations with civil society organizations. This was an important step forward because the genocide investigation was still ongoing and this gave us hope that at some point the trial would take place.
In those four years, CALDH joined the case as a prosecutor and assisted the survivors in reconstructing their collective memory.

Q. What was the contribution to Hivos?

A. Hivos has supported CALDH and AJR for over a decade. Together we have stood up to the justice system in Guatemala and fought against impunity. We are still seeking justice to honor the truth and the memory of the genocide survivors.

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First trial for genocide in Guatemala